Thursday, May 5, 2011

AI Top 5 Recap: You Think Love Hurts?

Has Ryan finally tired of sharing the spotlight with the judges? Because tonight’s show started with the judges already seated and they didn’t get their special introductions, so we didn’t get to see J.Lo’s full “librarian bride” outfit or Steven’s latest ensemble from the women’s section of Merry-Go-Round. (Remember those? And Chess King?) We did, however, get the full Peaches-down-the-stairs treatment, along with close-ups of Kelly Preston (guess the tabloids are wrong and she’s not pregnant again) and Sir Anthony Hopkins, and the clever “I (Heart) The Seacrest Side Part” poster.

With only three weeks until the inevitable Scotty-Lauren finale in the Nokia Theater, Ryan reminded us that tonight was probably the most important show of the season. Why? Well, as Randy explained (like he does every week), at this point in the season everyone is wondering who is in it to win it? (Because I guess no one remembers that Randy tells us at least one or two of them are in it to win it every week, right?)

This week’s theme, “Now and Then,” will have the contestants singing a “current” song and a song from the 1960s or 1970s. (Remember, on American Idol, “current” means songs dating from 2004 through an unreleased song, but more on that later.) To help protect Jimmy from the wrath of the contestants he dissed last week mentor the contestants this week, Jimmy enlisted some “musical royalty.” Who comes to mind when you hear that term? Bet Sheryl Crow wasn’t it…

James was first up, and for his “current” song he chose 30 Seconds to Mars’ Closer to the Edge. (Not bad, it was released in 2010!) Sheryl was singing backup for James during rehearsal and she excitedly chanted “I get to sing with James,” to which James replied, “I got to sing with Sheryl.” Cute. Jimmy said that there is “nothing standing between him and greatness.” Clad in a sleeveless jacket with “Give Metal a Chance” on the back, James worked the stage and the crowd like a total pro during the song, high-fiving the crowd, encouraging them to sing along, and hitting some pretty fantastic notes. To use a Randy-ism (I hate when I do that), it wasn’t my favorite song, but I am so amazed with the comfort he has performing. Steven told him he “kicked the song’s ass” and he’s “ready for stadiums” the way he storms the stage. J.Lo told him the competition was his to take. Randy reminded us that 30 Seconds to Mars is Jared Leto’s band (what a barrel of knowledge the Dawg is), and said he felt like this was a good song choice for James, as it shows where he’s going as an artist. And in case you didn’t remember from last week, “James is in it to win it! He wants it, Ryan!”

Time for “Positive Affirmations” with our own Jacob. Ryan asked Jacob if he still thought he could win the competition (was he going to say no), and of course, Mr. Ever-so-Humble explained that he brings something painful different every week, but more importantly, he’s bringing a positive message that something good could come out of his hometown of Compton, CA. (Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the rap group NWA as well as Venus and Serena Williams come from Compton? I’d think the town is doing pretty well for itself already, so no need to pat yourself on the back, Baby Luther.)

Jacob picked No Air, the duet by Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks and everyone’s favorite stable boyfriend, Chris Brown. (This “current” song is from 2008, BTW.) And lucky for us, Jacob chose to sing both parts. I prayed for no air during the performance, one of my Facebook friends prayed for no hearing…it was just that awful, perhaps one of the worst performances I’ve seen in years. But maybe the judges got to see a different rendition, because instead of telling him how horrible it was, J.Lo told him she was glad he was starting to define himself as an artist (because he mentioned in the pre-performance footage that this was the type of song he wanted to record) and if this is the type of song he wants to sing, he should cultivate this direction. Randy didn’t agree, explaining that while Jacob “is one of the greatest singers on the show” (compared to Ashthon, Karen, Naima and Paul, maybe), no one should ever sing duets by themselves. He also said that most of Jacob’s vocals were sharp, and he counseled Jacob that he isn’t the next Chris Brown or Jordin Sparks, but should be the next Luther, because “he’s the church kid.” Steven’s tone-deafness continued, as he told Jacob he “loves where [he goes] with his voice,” and although it was sharp, he was terrific. In response to Randy’s criticism, Jacob explained he is “an artist that appeals to everyone,” and even Luther sang pop songs. (Newsflash: You don’t appeal to me, Jacob. Burn!)

Lauren’s “current” song choice was Carrie Underwood’s Flat on the Floor (from 2008). Sheryl encouraged Lauren to “stay put” while singing instead of running all over the stage. This week’s first installment of “The Little Lauren That Could” found Jimmy explaining how proud he was of Lauren because she takes all of the constructive criticism and is ready to come out fighting. (Funny thing is, other than the “you need more confidence” and “you can hit big notes” tall tales that get spun each week, Lauren hasn’t had much, if any, constructive criticism. I’m just sayin’.)

As usual, I thought Lauren’s performance was fine. She shouted a lot, and I felt she had trouble sustaining some of her notes, but she was entertaining. At one point, the camera caught J.Lo bobbing her head along with the song, but her face didn’t look like she was enjoying herself that much. (That cameraman will be looking for work soon.) Record exec Randy told Lauren this was the direction she should go in, and “Lauren is in it, y’all!” (But if the dawg doesn’t say “in it to win it,” does that mean she’s not?) Steven said that Lauren has “found her niche,” and at “15 years old” (she’s 16), he thinks “she’s it.”

Dear Nigel,

As hard as it may be to believe, Scotty’s “current” song, Gone by Montgomery Gentry, is from 2004! Regardless, Sheryl told Scotty he has a big career ahead of him. Jimmy promised that because of the intensity and angst of the song, “people will be moved” by Scotty’s performance. I am not sure what performance he was talking about, because I didn’t sense any intensity except for how hard Scotty rolls his eyes when he makes his funny faces, and I certainly wasn’t moved. Look, Scotty has a great voice, but apart from a rare performance here and there, I feel he’s fairly one-note. At this point in the competition, it’s great he’s such a polished performer, but I’d like to see some growth week after week. I don’t see that with Scotty; all I see is the same stuff, just a different song and a different outfit. But I’m just blogging for people on Facebook, you know? I'm no musical expert. (But I do have 17,000+ songs on my iPod.) Steven told Scotty, “Up to now you’ve been a Puritan, but I saw you dance with the devil tonight, and that’s good for you!” J.Lo said she “lost it there for a second,” and called his performance “some American Idol stuff.” Randy trotted out his second-most used phrase of the season, saying he felt as if he was “sitting at Scotty’s concert,” and then reminded us “this guy is in it to win it, too!”

Haley somehow lucked into the pimp spot again this week. Apparently Jimmy felt the need to apologize for how horribly he criticized her last week encouraged her to sing an unreleased Lady GaGa song called You and I, which she sings at her concerts. Haley was slightly ambivalent but decided to take the chance once she got the opportunity to talk to GaGa herself. (Does that seem as stupid to read as it did to write?) Jimmy said that the way Haley sings this song will show the audience “she’s got it.” She started out the song laying across the stairs, and gave a sexy, sultry performance, with some really powerful vocals. I didn’t love the song, and it didn’t sound like Madonna like most of GaGa's other songs (oops), but I think Haley was great, especially as she traded lines with the backup singers. But remember, the judges are trying to sabotage Haley like they did Kimberley Locke in Season 2 (anything to protect the Ruben/Clay finale) and Syesha Mercado in Season 7. (Remember when her “producers choice” song was Hit Me Up from “Happy Feet”?) So J.Lo said that Haley had “some good moments” in the song but didn’t think it was wise “when you have James and Scotty out here doing their thing” that she chose to sing a song no one had heard of. (Had you heard the 30 Seconds to Mars song before this show? Or the Montgomery Gentry or Carrie Underwood ones? I hadn’t. What difference does it make? Are the voters so sheep-like they can only vote for performers who sing songs they know? If that’s the case, why have theme weeks at all?) Randy said he didn’t think it was a very good song, and although she “had some nice notes,” he thinks of her as more the Joss Stone type of singer. (Wait, what about Janis Joplin?) Steven said he heard “all of Haley,” and told her she was “one perfect song away from being the American Idol,” but she just had to find it. Haley was really angry during the judges’ criticism, and when Ryan asked her if she regretted choosing the GaGa song, she chose her words carefully, by saying she took a risk. F—king bulls—t, this is.

The contestants’ second songs were from the 1960s or 1970s. (Even Scotty slid under the wire with this one.) James’ choice was Harry Nilsson’s Without You, sung previously by Kelly Clarkson (boy, was her voice hurting that week) and Carly Smithson in Season 7. The song really affected James emotionally because he misses his fiancée and son so much, and rehearsal footage had him crying so hard he stopped singing and sat outside. In typical faux-AI drama, we were led to wonder whether James would be able to pull it together. And…he did. The performance was definitely pitchy in places (dawg), but his emotions were truly captivating, as he broke down at the end. Randy called it “the mark of a truly great performer,” because while “the song wasn’t perfect vocally—it was sharp, flat, whatever in places—it was perfect emotionally.” He then deemed the title James’ to lose. Steven called it “crazy beautiful,” noting that “when you sing as good as you do, you can let a song get the best of you.” J.Lo praised James’ heart and soul, calling him “a true true artist” and saying “he’s amazing, guys.” As much as I love James, I will say that the judges giving him a total vocal pass on this performance—and so many other contestants throughout this season—is indicative of the “everyone should be the American Idol”-style judging I really dislike. That being said, an emotional James revealed that “every week I leave everything on this stage,” and I believe we’re luckier for it.

Here’s a lead-in to a commercial I never thought I’d hear: “Coming up, Jacob takes on Nazareth.” (Silly Jewish boy, I was figuring he would sing a gospel song after that. LOL.)

Jacob apparently came in with ideas for his second song, but Jimmy and Sheryl convinced him to take on Nazareth’s Love Hurts. (Most convincing was the soft, tender way Sheryl sang it a capella, but Jacob clearly didn’t pay attention.) Jacob tore into the song like a lioness after a gazelle—yep, it was that gross—and although he had a few moments, his refrain of “it hurts” couldn’t have been more apt. (The bemused look on Hannibal Lecter’s face led me to hope some fava beans and Chianti might be served after the show, but that’s just wishful thinking, right?) But bad as it is, remember what show we’re watching, people. Steven called himself “a sucker for [Jacob’s] passion,” and although he got “lost in the song” (code for “you f—ked up”), it was “a beautiful thing.” J.Lo discounted his “little bobble in the middle,” because of his ability to bring so many “tricks in the end.” (She said it, not me.) Randy said Jacob might have hit the highest note ever on the show and warned us, “Jacob is back!”

For little Lauren’s old song, she chose the unfamiliar little ditty Unchained Melody, which apparently was her parents’ song. (And you know it was their song because of its popularity in the movie Ghost, because her parents are younger than me, y’all.) As I pondered her rehearsal footage and Sheryl and Jimmy telling us how powerful of a moment Lauren was going to have, I seemed to recall that Lauren sang this song during Hollywood week, thus rendering this entire “Lauren can’t hit high notes” BS scenario moot. Anyway, her rendition was fine, although she was out of breath when going to some of her bigger notes, and I didn’t think she brought anything new to the song. But boo to the judges who gave her no feedback. J.Lo said there was “nothing to judge,” calling it “a beautiful song sung beautifully.” And Steven said she picked “just the right song,” because he could listen to her all night long. (Gross, don’t go there.) So remember: singing a familiar song and bringing nothing special to it > singing a song that no one knows really well. (And people said I’m not good at math.)

Were you wondering what Scotty would sing for this round? Easy peasy: Elvis Presley’s rendition of Always On My Mind, which I remember Anoop Desai singing so well in Season 8. Once again, Sheryl told us what a great career Scotty will have, and she said she can’t wait until he gets to Nashville so she can try to “horn in” on his career. (Naked ambition wins points, Sheryl.) Vocally, he did well, and we got the whole “sensitive Scotty” thing this time, but I felt none of the emotional connection that I do when James sings, and not because Scotty didn’t cry. I just feel like he checks things off—look soulfully into the camera (check), hit low notes (check), point (check). As I’ve said before, I feel like Scotty has already peaked on the show, so unless he pulls out a surprise or two, this is what we’re getting for the next three weeks. J.Lo called him a well-rounded artist and a true performer, and said he could do anything. Randy gave us that special insight into his psyche again, explaining he lives by the philosophies of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and “the quietest things make the loudest impression.” (I don’t think anyone would accuse Randy of the latter.) Steven told Scotty that “America loves your voice,” and that because everyone has performed so well, it’s going to be “tough for America to vote.” And then Ryan introduced Scotty’s Puerto Rican grandmother, who just said “He’s my Scotty.” So remember, folks, Scotty = America y Puerto Rico.

For her final performance, Haley chose The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun. After Siobhan Magnus’ kickass performance of the song last season, I was psyched for Haley’s rendition, especially after I saw that Kelly Clarkson called it “one of the best performances ever on the show” on Facebook and Twitter. Sheryl Crow had suggested she start singing the song a capella and then have the band come in. It was an absolutely flawless performance. Haley truly proved once again that she belongs on this stage, and has a better voice than Jacob, Scotty and Lauren. I just don’t understand what it is the producers and the judges don’t like about her, because I think she’s worthy of the kind of praise they give the others. The judges gave her a standing ovation. Randy said “The best performance of the night goes to Haley!” Steven praised her “sweet, sour and raspy” rendition, while J.Lo said, “You probably were a little angry at us when you came out, but that song has never been sung like that before.”

Just before my DVR gave out, the judges went into their whole “everyone is so deserving of your votes” charade. Here’s what I think:

Who should be in the bottom two: Jacob and Lauren (sorry)
Who will be in the bottom two: Jacob and Haley, although people may think James is safe given his emotional performance and the judges’ praise

There is no justice in this competition if Jacob doesn’t go home tonight. But then again, remember what show we’re watching. And if Haley does go home, I once again will remind you of the order in which they introduced the top 6 last week—Scotty, Lauren, James, Jacob, Haley and Casey.

I’ll be on the road in Florida tonight so I don’t know if I’ll get to watch the results show in its entirety. How I might live with myself if I miss Lady Antebellum (I love them) and a pre-recorded performance by J.Lo is between my therapist and me.

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